Arriving at Cheynes Beach on a Tuesday afternoon to report on the sudden stranding of a pilot whale pod, I was met with a confronting scene. Spread across the shoreline of the pristine white beach were almost 100 whales. Some thrashed desperately in the shallows, and others made forlorn vocalisations or lay motionless. I watched as one young whale swam in on a wave, turned itself upside down and came to a rest in the shallows all in a manner of seconds, as groups of people worked nearby to move the animals back into the water. When darkness fell the official rescue effort was suspended until early the next morning, by which time about half of the pod had perished. Across the day, around 250 volunteers dressed in wetsuits were mobilised to carry the surviving 45 whales back into the water using huge slings. It seemed an impossible task to move so many whales — each weighing at least a tonne — and then work to keep the huge creatures upright in the water in the hopes they would gain enough strength to regroup and swim away from the shore. But no one on the beach seemed deterred by the mammoth task, instead doing everything they could to give the whales the best chance of survival, even if it meant putting their own bodies on the line in the frigid water. They were supported by others who handed out snacks and cups of hot soup, tea and hot water bottles in acts of kindness throughout the day. This reporter received the goodwill first-hand when, after turning up to the Cheynes Beach Caravan Park shop on the Tuesday night with boots full of seawater and nothing else to wear, owner Joanne Marsh offered up a pair of her own socks. Watching the moment the whales turned back towards the shoreline after they were released was terrible for everyone watching on from the beach. But the sadness of the scene did not deter the volunteers, who quickly swung into a recovery effort to bring the whales ashore for vet attention. Across social media last week there were hundreds of posts and comments criticising the Department of Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions for not doing enough to help the pod, and for restricting the amount of volunteers on the ground. It’s easy to criticise the efforts of the organisers from behind a keyboard and say that more could have been done. It’s easy to say the rescue should have continued overnight on Tuesday, from the comfort of your own home, when it wasn’t you faced with a seemingly insurmountable task in pitch-black water and whipping Antarctic winds. What wasn’t easy was standing in the freezing ocean alongside the visibly tiring whales, copping icy breezes for hours and performing the back-breaking work of carrying the massive creatures into, and then out of, the ocean. And it wasn’t easy to hear the sobering noise of cracking gunshots on the Wednesday night which signalled the end of the whales’ suffering. The reality is, it was a complicated situation in a remote area that required the organisation and guidance of experts, many of whom needed to travel in from other parts of the State. The efforts could not have gone as smoothly as they did without this. For those who were there the complex nature of the effort, which evolved from rescue to recovery, was as obvious as the suffering of the whales. And although it didn’t end as everyone hoped, the Great Southern community can be proud of the way they came together in a crisis and did everything they could to give the whales the best chance possible.